What We’re Reading in January

Our books editor reviews “The Same Dead Sons” by Dave Newman.

Same Dead SongsThe Same Dead Songs
Dave Newman

James Parton quite infamously described the city of Pittsburgh in his January 1868 article for The Atlantic as “hell with the lid taken off.” He can be forgiven his Dante-esque hyperbole considering the catchy phrase was deployed to describe the admittedly infernal vision of seeing a steel mill in action braced against the pitch-black night sky. The heat, the slag, the flames all definitely made an impression.

Jump ahead some 150 years and we find our writers still contending with Parton’s fiery observation. Pittsburgh is no longer the poster child for blue-collar industry, but we remain haunted by that bygone identity. The primary question all of our writers must contend with is: Who the hell are we?

“The ghosts of childhood and geography and the working class bind us like nails in boards, like drink in a glass,” writes Trafford author Dave Newman in his latest book, “The Same Dead Songs.” This slim volume, the author’s first extended foray into nonfiction, is subtitled “a memoir of working class addictions.” The theme of addiction certainly applies to Anthony, the subject of this sharp character study, whose many destructive addictions include alcohol, drugs and gambling.

“I assume Anthony is still alive and still drunk and still high but maybe not. He could be dead in any number of places by any number of means,” Newman writes. This is not a cautionary tale, but rather an honest account of the choices people make rendered in Newman’s always supple prose.

Parton less famously wrote, “Pittsburg is a place to read up for, to unpack your trunk and settle down at, to make excursions from, and to study as you would study a group of sciences.” Or as Newman more succinctly puts it, “I live here to write about it, to say this place matters.”

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